Skip to content

Phenomenal Records: Buy Music. Drop Rhymes. Make Friends.

October 22, 2013

PhenomenalRecords01smallText by Rosella LaFevre. Images by Luong Huynh.

Jay Lansky didn’t just come home with bags full of free swag when returning from weekend visits to New York City to see his friend who worked in sales for The Source magazine.

“I met the Jadakisses, the Erykah Badus, the Q-Tips, all through The Source,” says Lansky, for whom name-dropping is a form of communication rather than a means of impressing the person he’s talking to. “They would all come through the building, chill, let you listen to their music and you’d see what they got comin’ up.”

For a year, Lansky made these regular trips from his home in Philly to the Big Apple. Eventually, the meetings and conversations turned into useful connections and, in 2002, Lansky gave up his odd jobs at UPS and as a carpet cleaner to open up his own record store, Phenomenal Records.

Lansky invested his savings in a storefront in South Philadelphia before zoning infractions shut down Phenomenal, as well as the catering hall above Lansky’s shop. The next stop was the storefront he currently rents on Cecil B. Moore Avenue, near Temple University’s main campus.

With its location so close to thousands of university students, one might think Phenomenal Records has a substantial collegiate clientele. While that may have been the goal at first, it just isn’t the case, says Lansky.

“We used to do freshmen orientation days at Temple but it just never really couldn’t catch on, man,”  he says over coffee at the nearby Dunkin’ Donuts.

He still has a lot of friends at Temple. He just doesn’t need to rely upon them for income.

“I know a lot of the athletes,” says Lansky. “But you know, then is different from now. So now, we’re a little more comfortable.”

In 2006, Lansky opened the recording studio that sits in the rear of the space. He brought on producer Mike Washington, better known as Bear-One, to work as his sound engineer. Bear-One has a different impression of the store’s clientele, indicating that students who come to buy music also want to schedule studio time.

“Being on a college campus,” he says, “everybody wants to be a rapper.”

Before joining Phenomenal, Bear-One worked for Universal Records and brought talent to the record shop for in-store visits. During his label days, Bear-One recalls Lansky being very supportive.

“Phenomenal was one of the best indie stores,” says Bear-One. “And Jay turned out to be a really good friend.”

Outfitted with Apple computers, Pro Tools and Beats by Dre gear, the studio has done everything from quick radio spots to full mixtapes for many independent and major label artists including Jadakiss, Method Man, Young Chris and Meek Mill. The latter was actually the first artist to be recorded at Phenomenal Records.

“Jay was like, ‘Yo, this is my young bol,’” Bear-One recalls of his introduction to Meek Mill. “I heard him and I was like, ‘Yo, this kid is incredible.’”

Bear attributes the success of Phenomenal to the combination of a retail store and recording studio – that it’s a one-stop shop for local artists and music lovers to convene, collaborate and conspire.

“That’s what separates us from other studios,” he says. “We have a retail space where people can come in, get mixtapes and meet artists. At the same time, we can take them in the studio and do whatever they need done.”

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: